Rice Football dropped their first home contest to Wake Forest on Friday. Carter Spires takes us beyond the box score, unpacking the Owls’ offense and more.
Hey y’all, it’s Carter, and welcome back to the film room! This week we’re gonna be breaking down a couple of plays in the passing game. We’ll take a look at two plays from the Rice offense, breaking down the emergence of playmakers at wide receiver and quarterback. Then we’ll look at one for the Rice defense to highlight the growth in the secondary and show that sometimes great offense just beats great defense.
Play 1 | Wiley Green to Brad Rozner
It’s Rice’s second drive of the game, 6:06 to go in the first quarter. Rice is down 14-0. It’s second and 10 from the Wake 44. Rice has 11 personnel (1 back 1 TE) on the field in a spread set with two wide receivers stacked to the field (the wide side of the field), and Wiley Green is in the shotgun with Aston Walter behind him and to his right.
Bradley Rozner is the “Z” receiver to the boundary (the short side of the field), which is the strong side here because the TE (can’t tell which one) is lined up on that side. Wake responds by showing a split safety look, with the corner playing off Rozner and “rover” (a hybrid OLB/S/nickel similar to Rice’s Viper) Luke Masterson playing the seam about 7 yards off the line of scrimmage.
The rover is Green’s key on this play, which after a bit of back and forth with myself I’m fairly sure is an RPO (more on that in a bit). Rozner is going to run what’s called a glance route or skinny post—that is, he’ll stem his route vertically, then break toward the middle of the field at a shallow angle. If the rover bails at the snap (i.e., if Wake is playing Cover 2 to that side to bracket Rozner), Green will hand the ball off to Walter, because in that case, Rice has 6 blockers to Wake’s 6 defenders in the box.
If the rover flows downhill at the snap to play the run (based on the alignment of Wake’s front, I think he’s responsible for the strongside C-gap, between the tackle and the TE), then Wake has the numbers advantage in the run game and Rozner is in single coverage, so Green will pull the ball and throw it to him. Since there’s no middle-of-the-field safety in this coverage, a completed pass to Rozner here could mean a huge gain (and it does!)
On whether this is an RPO: the broadcast the color commentator identified it as such because LG Nick Leverett pulls at the snap, but that can sometimes be window dressing for a play-action pass. The rest of the OL doesn’t exactly fire downhill (look at Clay Servin). What sells me is that RT Justin Gooseberry, after a quick double team, climbs to the second level to block the linebacker, which he wouldn’t be doing if it were a called pass. So I’m fairly certain this is an RPO.
It’s a pretty easy read for Green. Masterson is creeping downhill even *before* the snap. He’s already taken a couple steps forward by the time Walter reaches the mesh point. As such, Green doesn’t even have to hesitate at the mesh point; he quickly pulls the ball and flips it to Rozner, who does a great job of breaking his route in time to box out the corner. He makes the catch, slips the corner’s tackle attempt, and makes it all the way inside the 5 on the play. First and goal, Owls.
Play 2 | Tom Stewart to August Pitre
2:16 left in the 1st quarter and Rice is down 14-7. They have it 2nd and 7 on the Wake 26 on Tom Stewart’s first full drive at QB. Rice is in 20 personnel (2 backs no TE), in another shotgun spread set. Rozner is the lone receiver to the boundary. August Pitre is wide to the field. Austin Trammell is in the slot, and Stewart is flanked by Nahshon Ellerbe (right) and FB Reagan Williams (left). Wake is again in their nickel personnel, showing a split safety look.
At the snap, the safety and both outside corners bail deep while the nickel back and linebackers drift into shallow zones. The TV camera is too zoomed in for us to tell exactly what happens, but since we later see the safety running towards Pitre from the middle of the field, it looks like they bailed into Cover 3 (in this case a very basic 3 deep/4 under pure zone coverage) from the split safety look.
Both Trammell and Pitre stem their routes vertical at the snap. Trammell breaks his off into a curl (a type of comeback route, often used to find holes in zone coverage) a couple of yards past the first down marker. He’s briefly open if Stewart fires the ball out right as he breaks his route, but it looks like Stewart wants Pitre all the way*.
It’s difficult to tell what route Pitre is running, again because of the camera, but it looks like he breaks his route inward just before disappearing from view. But by the time the ball reaches him, he’s breaking back toward the sideline, meaning this is some kind of double-move, either a post-corner or post-out.
Either way, he finds some space under the outside corner’s deep third and above the nickel’s shallow zone. (The nickel might have been in a position to make the play, but he spent a long time lingering to make sure Reagan Williams wasn’t going to leak out of the pass protection and catch a checkdown underneath). Both are closing hard as the ball’s in the air though, so the window ends up being a tight one.
It’s a perfect play from both Stewart and Pitre. Stewart puts the ball high where only his guy can get it, and Pitre shows off his leaping ability to high point the ball and come down with it. First and goal, Rice. They’d tie the game on a zone-read keeper from Stewart the next play.
Play 3 | Jamie Newman to Scotty Washington
Sadly, I probably shouldn’t *only* show Rice’s best plays in this column. I want to highlight this particular Wake TD though, because it dovetails with what Matthew and I said on the pod this week. Several times against Wake, the Rice DBs were in position to make a play and were simply beat straight up by Jamie Newman’s pinpoint passing and the size and athleticism of his gargantuan receivers.
That’s frustrating, but it’s better than getting beat because you were out of position or couldn’t stick with your man in coverage. This play was bad for Rice, but it shows some promise for the Rice secondary (or for Andrew Bird, at least) in conference play.
Wake is in an 11 personnel shotgun spread set, with two receivers to the field, and the RB and H-back both lined up on the offense’s right. Rice is in their base defensive personnel, which we’ll call a nickel here, because Treshawn Chamberlain is most definitely lined up as a DB rather than a LB. They’re showing a five-man front with a Cover 1 man-under look in the secondary, with Chamberlain as the deep safety. They’re playing press-man on the outside receivers, as is preferred in DC Brian Smith’s scheme.
We’re mainly concerned with Andrew Bird, lined up as the boundary corner on Scotty Washington (who checks in at a whopping 6-foot-5, 225 pounds), but I do wanna highlight the versatility of these Rice defenders. The Viper role often has nickel DB/outside linebacker responsibilities, but Chamberlain is playing deep safety in Cover 1. Blaze Alldredge, the starting weakside (“Will”) linebacker, is lined up as a standup defensive end. George Nyakwol, the starting free safety, is basically playing linebacker. These guys can do it all!
At the snap, Rice sends all five defenders on the line. Antonio Montero and Nyakwol follow on a delayed blitz**. Unfortunately, none of Rice’s players on the front can beat their blocks in time to affect the throw. Newman gets the ball out fast enough that Montero and Nyakwol don’t have time to get home even though they have numbers to that side with both blitzing.
Meanwhile, Bird plays outside leverage at the snap, wanting to seal Washington off from the sideline since he’s got help to the middle of the field. Washington stutters the outside, getting a clean release. Bird does well to recover, staying engaged and in phase with the receiver throughout the route.
Both of them see the ball in flight when they’re at about the 5-yard line, and Bird even manages to negate Washington’s height advantage enough to get a hand in at the catch point. Unfortunately for him, Washington is not only four inches taller than he is, but 50 pounds heavier as well, and I’m guessing that a fair amount of those 50 pounds are muscle. Washington hangs on to the ball, and it’s a TD for Wake.
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It didn’t work this time, but in this play you can see exactly what Brian Smith wants this defense to be against the passing game. Physical man coverage on receivers paired with aggressive and hopefully confusing pressure from the front. If Jamie Newman were a little less accurate or a little less comfortable in a compressed pocket, or if Scotty Washington were even 2–3 inches shorter, this play goes as planned for Rice. As Rice’s players continue to develop in the scheme (and in the long term, as the staff continues to recruit players who fit it), they’ll get even better at executing.
So there you have it. We asked for some playmakers to step up for Rice in the passing game, and they did that against Wake. (I didn’t break down a play for Austin Trammell, but he was stellar as well). And while this weekend’s game against Texas is going to feature a similarly capable QB and even more enormous receivers, not many C-USA teams can replicate that. If Rice’s secondary maintains this level of play when they get to the conference games, the results will look a lot better.
*I’m not entirely familiar with this route combination (a hitch from the slot with a post-corner or post-out from the outside receiver), so I can’t tell you for certain what the read for the QB is. It seems to be the same basic principle as a smash concept (which is a corner route from the slot over an outside hitch)—that is, you put a high-low stress on the curl/flat defender. If he stays shallow to rob the underneath route, you throw the deep route. If he goes deeper into his zone to take away the vertical route, you throw to the underneath receiver.
**For Nyakwol this is probably a “green dog” blitz—i.e., he’s assigned to cover the RB in man, but if the back stays in pass pro, he blitzes.
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